Sylvia Goldman, inventor and designer of the shopping cart, was born in 1898, in Oklahoma, to Jewish immigrants from Latvia. At the time, grocery shopping looked very different from what we are used to now. All groceries were bought in a general store, where the clerks would gather the food items which were located behind the counter. The customer would wait by the counter for his order to be filled.
All this changed in 1916. Clarence Saunders opened the famous Piggly Wiggly grocery chain in Memphis, Tennessee which revolutionized shopping. It was the first self-service grocery store in America. Following this new modern approach to retail, Goldman slowly copied Saunders’ success and developed the first self-service groceries in Oklahoma. After Goldman lost his grocery stores in the great depression in 1929 he once again opened other Grocery stores, this time part of the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain. These were larger stores, but they were financially struggling. In these self-service grocery stores the customer would transport the items he wished to buy by carrying a wire-woven basket. The problem, it seemed, was that the customer’s arms would get tired — and thus cut the shopping trip short. Goldman figured that if shoppers wouldn’t have to hold the items they would be free to shop more.
The carts available to the public at the time were way too large for the store aisles, would be awkward to maneuver and too expensive to store. Goldman, struck by an epiphany, grabbed a folding chair and one of the wire baskets that were used and ran to Fred Young — the town mechanic. Numerous tries later, they had the solution. They attached wheels to a metal folding chair and added another level to the chair. The cart then had two levels that the wire baskets were able to be placed into.
The first prototypes were completed in 1937 and placed in the Oklahoma City Piggly Wiggly store. Surprisingly, people were not too eager to accept this new advancement. Women had enough with pushing their baby strollers, and men felt that it was an insult to imply that they weren’t strong enough to hold the items they needed to purchase. Goldman, in another flash of brilliance, hired actors and had them walk around using the cart in order to get people to warm up to the idea of using them. Very quickly, the shopping cart’s popularity grew, and spread all over the US and beyond. Although there have been improvements and updates, the 25 million shopping carts that fill all our stores have this one visionary to thank for their existence.